Scientists at war over Government funding

An unseemly spat has broken out between two of the most distinguished bodies representing Britain's scientists and engineers over where the cuts should fall in the forthcoming review of the Government's science budget.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) has broken with the unwritten rule of not directly criticising another scientific discipline by suggesting that maths and physics get an unfair amount of government money compared to engineering and technology.

The suggestion, made in the RAE's official submission to the Government's spending review, contradicts the advice of the equally distinguished Royal Society, which has privately intimated that the academy's suggestions are "unhelpful" in furthering the case for protecting the science budget.

In its submission, the RAE also criticises the funding allocated to particle physics, much of which is spent on the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva, which makes "a lower contribution to the intellectual infrastructure of the UK compared to other disciplines".

The RAE submission says: "Although particle physics research is important it makes only a modest contribution to the most important challenges facing society today, as compared with engineering and technology where almost all the research is directly or indirectly relevant to wealth creation."

Lord Browne, the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former chief executive of BP, believes that science funding in Britain needs to be "rebalanced". He would like to see funding concentrated on activities that contribute to the economy within the short to medium term, rather than the sort of blue-skies, basic research carried out by many of the fellows at the Royal Society just a few doors away in Carlton House Terrace, presided over by Lord Rees, a distinguished Cambridge cosmologist.

"It is not suggested that those subjects where research funding is reduced should disappear. However, the country cannot afford to invest as much in such areas as it presently does and, arguably, the needs for solutions to the fascinating problems that lie in some areas of basic science is not urgent," the RAE's submission states.

The Royal Society's submission to the Government does not identify possible areas for cuts but argues for a steady maintenance of science funding overall, with the Research Councils left to decide funding priorities. "Any cuts must be administered carefully so that they do not cause lasting damage and can be reversed when the public finances allow," the Royal Society says.

The difference in opinion between the academies re-opens the old wounds dividing science and engineering that were meant to have been healed when they were brought under the one roof of a joint research council nearly 30 years ago.

Brian Cox, a particle physicist at Manchester University who also works at Cern, said he was surprised to see the comments in the RAE's submission but does not believe it marks a deeper divide between the disciplines.

"You tend to get rivalry between the grandees. I don't see rivalry at my level, at the mid-level of people who in many ways are actually doing the science and engineering," Dr Cox said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high